- An Amazon.ca Best of 2005 selection.
The strong visuals should be obvious - an Akira Kurosawa film with no strong visuals is like a Monet painting with poor use of color. The battle scenes are stunning and seem to come out of a nightmare, with rifleman shooting down on soldiers with a bright light flashing behind them. The colored armor of Takeda's men were also nicely picked and, as Kurosawa would later do with "Ran", give their presense a hauntingly beautiful yet horrifying tone. The final scene at the Battle of Nagashino (which was wrongfully nitpicked in Stephen Turnbull's Osprey book of the battle) chooses to show us only the aftermath of the battle, with shots of cavalry charging to the gunners and then cutting to the horrified expressions of those who watch the unfolding massacre of Japan's greatest army. The shot of the fields of dead is some thing that could only have come out of the nightmare of war.
I think the strongest part of the film, though, were the characters. The film has a slew of fascinating characters, from Takeda's generals (each with their own personality) right down to the rifleman who shot Takeda. Even the spies from Oda and Tokugawa interact and talk like real people, and I can't think of any one in this film I easily forget. I especially liked Oda Nobunaga, and I think this film has the best portrayal I've ever seen of him. He can be seen walking out with his army and stopping briefly to listen to a Christian priest give a prayer. There is another part where he rides around on an Arab horse, followed by a scene where he offers Tokugawa Ieyasu a glass of Western wine (poor Tokugawa chokes on it!).
The best character is, of course, the shadow warrior himself. The actor did a wonderful job of playing Takeda and the imposter, and even though being a common thief that nearly quits his job in the beginning, you find yourself growing to like him. The scene where he confesses to the concubines he is an imposter, knowing they'll take it as a joke, and then winks at a general was hilarious! Also, notice in the scene where a retainer describes to Takeda's nephew what the meaning of the clan flag is...the imposter is listening just as intently as the boy is! He also comes out strong in the second-to-last battle sequence, where he watches as men fight and die for a man they strongly admire. The final Kurosawa metaphor at the end (which I won't describe because its a serious spoiler) also gives the whole point of the story. The man tried to undertake a role that was perhaps too big for him, a role only one man could really play.
Overall, I was very impressed with this movie, and I would definately recommend it as viewing for those fans of the master of film himself. I hope soon a DVD will be released of it and I will be able to add it to my growing Akira Kurosawa DVD set. In the meantime, I happily own a video copy for viewing.